You’ve written your manuscript, you go to upload to a distribution platform, and it spits out something looking like a cat jumping on a keyboard. What happened? Formatting a manuscript for epublication can be one of the most frustrating aspects of self publishing, if you don’t set it up right first.
If you are working with a conventional fiction manuscript—mostly just text, with chapters and a table of contents—formatting can be relatively straightforward. Books with illustrations, charts, technical formatting, and/or indexes will require more forethought and time in construction to make sure that what should go where when actually does so, after conversion. For really technical formatting, a paid expert will likely be warranted, but most of us can get by with a little planning ahead.
The conversion process behind push button converters is essentially a translation from one file format “language” to another. Straightforward communications, “Up the stairs, turn left, and there is the bathroom,” are much easier to translate than complicated ones, “Find the wide bark rocking in the Stygian breeze, / And come aboard, having first paid Charon what is owed.” Now imagine something with charts and graphs thrown in, and trying to get a computer to automatically know what to do with it.
Luckily, formatting is less about content than about placement—where what goes when. For ebooks, fluidity is an essentially part of the user experience; what the text looks like on a computer screen is not the same as what it will look like on a smart phone, and is definitely not the same as it will look when I ramp up the font size so I can see it. Because ebooks require content to be fluid, proper formatting is absolutely essential to a usable product.
Below are some guides I have found useful to getting there, if you are using one of three major distribution platforms that require you to do your own manuscript formatting: Amazon, Smashwords, and of course, Yourself.
Book Formatting for Self Publishers: A comprehensive how to guide. (Jeanette Green, 2012)
A comprehensive guide to formatting manuscripts for Amazon’s CreateSpace and Lightning Source print on demand services. In addition to physical print book formatting, Green covers eBook formatting for Kindle, NOOK, Smashwords, and Lightning Source eBooks, all using Microsoft Word. You can also learn how to convert any book cover file so that it will be accepted at Lightning Source and CreateSpace.
Smashwords Style Guide: How to format your ebook. (Mark Coker, 2013)
You can download this ebook for free (or read it online) here: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/52
The Smashwords Style Guide has helped thousands of authors produce and publish high-quality ebooks. This free guide offers simple step-by-step instructions to create, format and publish an ebook. It’s required reading for any author who wants to distribute their book via Smashwords to major ebook retailers such as the Apple iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Sony, Kobo, and Diesel.
The Librarian’s Guide to Micropublishing (Walt Crawford, 2012)
In this slim volume Walt Crawford covers a great deal, including how and why libraries can support self-publishing, and elements of the marketplace. His sections covering formatting and templates are easy to grasp, and he provides his templates for download to his readers, which is a huge boon to those interested in getting it done, quickly.
If you are using InDesign
Digital Book World has a fantastic resource page for InDesign: http://www.digitalbookworld.com/2011/indesign-to-ebook-resources/
Once you have a well formatted electronic manuscript, you may decide for one reason or another to convert to an ebook format yourself rather than using a major distribution channel. With Calibre format conversion software, and Sigil EPUB editing software, you can turn your electronic manuscript into an ebook distributable through your own website, by email, or through the library.
Found a useful resource not mentioned here? Share in the comments for community reference!